- Introduction to Focus:Dance
Dance is one of the most pure forms of human expression, and one of the most intimidating. Done well, it requires both wild abandon and adherence to the rules of technique. It is, unironically, a fine balancing act and frequently misunderstood. Popular dance is left to teenage girls and drunk bachelorettes wearing sashes and penis jewelry. Dance, for consumers, is frequently limited to The Nutcracker. Dance, as "proper" art, is left to fringe festivals and artsy folks. At least, that is the way society perceives it. This focus is meant to counteract those stereotypes and show the breadth of current work in practice and in written work.
Sarah Rosenthal's "Postmodern Dance: A Feminist Lineage" focuses on dance contributions of Anna Halprin, Simone Forti, and Yvonne Rainer and their particular West Coast style of postmodern dance. Her favorable review looks at the connection of these West Coast female dancers with East Coast musical superstars, most notably Merce Cunningham and John Cage. The development of the West Coast attitude in dance from the mid 1950s through the 1970s, as demonstrated in Rosenthal's review is indebted to the feminist movements of era and their intersections with social and political movements, creating a new world of postmodern choreography.
The use of dance to advance feminist concerns that Rosenthal's review touches on is brought to the foreground by the works reviewed by Sidney Homan in "The Premier of She (2018) and No Words (2017) by Ariel Rivka Dance." The works Homan quite favorably reviews here both deal with women's issues. In She, the choreography is devoted to the experiences and feeling of postpartum depression. The only sound to which dancers move is that of a breast pump. That piece, in an evening of dance, is paired with No Words, a dance work in three movements that explores the vast emotional and societal experiences of the #MeToo movement, from the intensely personal post-traumatic period to the public outcry and rebellion against sexual violence. As Homan rightly asserts, these pieces could not come at a better time and deserve a much wider audience than modern dance receives. The power of dance is great enough to impart the impetus for lasting change.
Jillian Harris's "Creative Diplomacy in Action" proves that as she explores the 2018 Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company Tour and talks with Jena Woodbury herself about the tour and life in dance. In 2018, the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, with assistance from the NEA, toured South Korea and Mongolia with pieces designed to spark political conversation and debate while helping to eliminate cultural barriers between the United States and Southeast Asia. Harris's piece reminds readers of the importance of touring and its integral role in understanding the power dance can have. In dance, language doesn't matter. Its core translates without words.
Dance is image. From that idea comes Daniel T. O'Hara's piece, "Desire and Drive in the Modernist Image of the Dancer." In this, the most scholarly of the pieces in this focus, O'Hara focuses on the image of the dancer is Modern literature, with special indebtedness to Frank Kermode's images and ideals. O'Hara's work illuminates Kermode's seminal text with images from W. B. Yeats, but avoids the expected "Among School Children" quotation in favor of reference to Yeats's "Crazy Girl" and other images from Sailing to Byzantium (1928).
The frenetic pace of Yeats's dancer figures analyzed by O'Hara is the opposite of the slow sexual ooze conjured by Bob Fosse's choreography. In my review of Big Deal: Bob Fosse and Dance in the American Musical (2018), I explore the way Fosse's choreography revolutionized dance on stage, allowing dance to speak to and criticize social mores in musical theatre, which introduced a new form of truncated, raw, minimalism in a world where dance was either flashy costuming and grand jetés or lyrical ballet.
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In some way, each piece in this collection demonstrates the power and revolutionary potential of dance. My hope is that it encourages readers...